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Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Seance  On A Wet Afternoon (1964)
Directed byBryan Forbes
Production CompanyBeaver Films
Produced byRichard Attenborough
ScreenplayBryan Forbes
From the novel byMark Mcshane
CinematographyGerry Turpin

Cast: Kim Stanley (Myra Savage); Richard Attenborough (Billy Savage); Mark Eden (Charles Clayton); Nanette Newman (Mrs Clayton); Margaret Lacey (woman at first seance)

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Plans go awry when a fake spirit medium kidnaps a young child as a publicity stunt.

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Séance On A Wet Afternoon (d. Bryan Forbes, 1964) is easily the darkest, and maybe the finest, of the five films which Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes co-produced. Forbes adapted it from a 1961 novel by Mark McShane, a British-based crime writer whose penchant for odd titles resulted in such books as The Crimson Madness of Little Doom (1966), Ill Met by a Fish Shop in George Street (1968) and Lashed But Not Leashed (1976). Although the story's protagonist, Myra Savage, later returned in McShane's sequel Séance for Two (1972), the film turned out to be the last, and least financially successful, of the Attenborough/Forbes collaborations.

Despite the critical and commercial success of Attenborough and Forbes' Whistle Down the Wind (d. Forbes, 1961) and The L-Shaped Room (d. Forbes, 1962), financing for Séance was hard to secure. In addition, although Attenborough agreed to co-star as the hen-pecked husband, Bill, the main role of Myra, the clairvoyant wife, proved very hard to cast, with actresses like Margaret Lockwood, Anne Bancroft and Simone Signoret proving to be either unavailable or uninterested, or simply not considered sufficiently commercial. At one point, Forbes even toyed with changing the role to that of a man, hoping to get Alec Guinness and Tom Courtenay for both leads, before finally settling on American stage actress Kim Stanley.

The film's opening is slowly and deliberately paced, as we see Myra and Bill exchange increasingly strained and sinister dialogue while making rather mysterious and methodical preparations around their house. Strong character scenes between the submissive husband and the increasingly unbalanced wife play effectively alongside the suspenseful kidnap and ransom sequences. This approach is seen at its best in the film's central twelve minute section, in which Bill's frantic collection of the ransom at Piccadilly Circus underground station is intercut with a sedate policeman's interview with Myra back home. The scene effectively juxtaposes big city anonymity with suburban familiarity.

The novel was filmed again in Japan in 2000 as Séance (Korei, d. Kiyoshi Kurosawa).

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. The gift (3:48)
2. The ransom (3:21)
3. The seance (4:33)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Attenborough, Lord Richard (1923-)
Barry, John (1933-2011)
Forbes, Bryan (1926-2013)
Magee, Patrick (1922-1982)
Newman, Nanette (1934-)
Relph, Simon (1940-)